Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Join as a sustainer and support independent local news for your community.

Which Comics Should I Get? Your Free Comic Book Day Cheat Sheet

Mary Ann Shilts takes one of the give away comic books from the display rack at the New Dimensions Comics store in Cranberry, Pa., Butler County, as part of Free Comic Book Day 2012. Free Comic Book Day 2013 is Saturday, May 4.
Keith Srakocic
Mary Ann Shilts takes one of the give away comic books from the display rack at the New Dimensions Comics store in Cranberry, Pa., Butler County, as part of Free Comic Book Day 2012. Free Comic Book Day 2013 is Saturday, May 4.

This Saturday, May 4th, is Free Comic Book Day, the comics industry's annual attempt to sail out past the shallow, overfished shoals where Nerds Like Me lazily and inexpertly spawn, to instead cast their line into the colder, deeper waters where Normals Like You swim free, blissfully unconcerned about the myriad nettlesome continuity issues surrounding Supergirl's underpants.

Yes, Free Comic Book Day is about you, O person who hasn't set foot in a comics shop in years, or ever. It's the industry's attempt to change that state of affairs: Walk into a participating shop this Saturday, and they will hand you a bunch of free comics. Or maybe just one free comic. Or maybe they'll let you pick from a table heaped with piles of free comics.

The point is: Free comics! Woo!

This year there are a whopping 52 different FCBD comics that stores may have in stock, most of which you can preview on the Free Comic Book Day site. On this same site, you can enter your zip code and find the closest participating shop.

Understand that not every shop will have every comic. There are 12 titles that most shops will likely carry (those designated "Gold Comics" on the FCBD site) and 40 others that some shops will order, and others will not (designated "Silver Comics").

That's a lot of books to choose from, and that's where the staff comes in: Tell them what you like — what movies, books, television shows you seek out, and they'll be able to find something that should line up with your tastes, whether or not it's an FCBD offering.

Herewith, however, is Monkey's See's annual FCBD Cheat Sheet. Below, we'll list several different kinds of prospective FCBD customers and match them with the Free Comic Book Day comics best suited to them. Find yourself, or a reasonable analogue thereof, on the list below, and hie your butt to the nearest FCBD-participating comic shop this Saturday.

Yes, let's begin with you, there, with the peanut butter on your sweater.

A. I've got kids. I want them to read good things.

Excellent! Some really nice all-ages comics on offer this year:

Marble Season – An excerpt from the great Gilbert Hernandez's new semiautobiographical graphic novel. When your kids are done with it, read it for yourself.

Mr. Puzzle – Chris Eliopoulos' stretchable, bendable superhero.

Molly Danger – Jamal Igle's all-ages book about a brave and resourceful ten-year-old superhero. Great for girls, boys and parents and non-parents who're looking for a fun, light book amid the current glut of grim, depressing spandex fare.

Top Shelf Kids Club – The usual suspects show up in this sampler for younger kids – Owly! Johnny Boo! Korgi! Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken! But in this case, the usual suspects are some of the very best kids' comics out there. So: Win.

Scratch 9 – Superhero cat who can summon each of his nine lives to fight eee-vil. (Ben 10? Scratch 9? See what they did there?)

Rated Free For Everyone – Sampler comic from Oni Press featuring a story from Chris Schweizer's historical tales of the Crogan clan, and an introduction to Mermin, the mer-boy.

Mouse Guard/Rust Flip Book – Archaia's collection includes original short stories from Mouse Guard (a great book), an upcoming Jim Henson's Labyrinth graphic novel, and an adventure of Jet Jones the rocket-boy.

World of Archie – The continuing adventures of America's favorite sweater-vested, tic-tac-toe-headed ginger.

Dragon Ball and Rurouni Kenshen Restoration – The Viz Comics sampler looks to be the only manga represented on FCBD, which makes precisely no sense, but these two series are hugely popular in Japan, having spawned anime series, films, video games, etc. Don't know if these specific stories make for particularly good jumping-on points, but at the very least you and your kids might get a sense of what all the fuss is about.

Finding Gossamyr – A special FCBD story that rounds out the world of the popular fantasy web series, in which a math prodigy is transported to a world where mathematics are magic.

Action Time Buddies – A web series that parodies Adventure Time, My Little Pony and many, many more.

BEST BETS: Marble Club, Molly Danger, Top Shelf Kids Club.

Ok? Yes, you there. In the mini-van.

B. I've got kids, too. But the backseat DVD player just conked out, and we're driving to Tampa. So.

So quality isn't the looming issue for you.


You want books you know they will read.

Yes. Quietly.

... What am I, Supernanny over here? Let's leave it at: books you know they'll read because they're already familiar with the characters. So we're talking licensed tie-ins of existing properties, then. Of which there are a kajillion. But you should --

Look, could you speed this up? Our youngest is getting that look on his face. We shouldn't have bought them the Pixie Stix back in Raleigh-Durham, I see that now.

Fine, fine. I was saying: You should know that licensed tie-ins have a spotty track record. But as long as you go into it knowing that there's no knowing how good they'll be –

Oh god, they're gnawing on each other's feet now. This is going downhill fast. Game over, man, game over--

Hold on, help is on the way!

It's An Ugly Doll Comic And Other Stuff – It's got, like, Pokemon in it.

Kaboom! Summer Blast – Grab-bag collection of such beloved properties as Adventure Time (which, let's just note, is a very, very good comic in its own right), Regular Show, Peanuts, Garfield, Ice Age, etc.

Sponge Bob Freestyle Funnies – Nickolodeon's wildly popular member of the phylum Porifera in square ... well, technically they're shorts, no?

Pippi Longstocking Color Special – Fairly crude reprints/translations of Swedish Pippi comics first published in the 1950s.

Bongo Free For All Comics – Dependably great Simpsons/Futurama comics.

The Tick – All new stories of the greatest superhero to ever boast an eating-utensil-based battle cry.

Sesame Street and Strawberry Shortcake – Together at last! I guess!

The Smurfs – Belgium has given the world two things: Thick crunchy delicious waffles, and this sobering account of a ruthlessly paternalistic socialist dystopia.

Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Airbender – Darth Vader and Boba Fett hangin' out, sipping blue Mandalorian space-Prosecco, getting mani-pedis, just having a girls' night out. Um, presumably. Also a story of Captain Midnight (yes, the radio guy), and a tale from Avatar: The Last Airbender Totally Not the Blue Cat People Whose Tails Are USB Ports Or Whatever.

NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians – This is a comic based on an animated series that premiered in 2010, and about which I know precisely nothing. Here's the synopsis of the show's second episode. I have not made any of the following up:

"After school, Ish revisits the Chargers' stadium where he learns about the history of the Shards, the Rusherz and a powerful object called the Core; The Rusherz' home planet which held the Core was peaceful, until an evil overlord named Sudden Death attacked the planet to take the Core for himself, but the Rusherz stopped him by drilling to the Core at the center of the planet and freeing it, destroying the planet in the process and casting the Core and the Rusherz into space. The Rusherz followed the Core to Earth, where it crashed upon landing and broke into 32 Shards (which are recognized as the symbols of the 32 NFL teams). Knowing Sudden Death would not stop until he had the Core, the Rusherz each took a Shard, built the 32 NFL stadiums to hide each one in and assigned the 32 teams to guard their respective Shard in those stadiums. If Sudden Death retrieves all the shards and rebuilds the Core, he'll use the Core's power to turn everything into Blitzbots."

... Does, uh ... does that help?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures – A comic book based on an animated series which is an update of an animated series that was based on a comic book.

Sonic The Hedgehog – A comic based on a video game.

Disney Fairies – A comic based on a series of DVDs.

Grimm – A comic based on a television show which might be a little grim/dark/gory for little kids.

BEST BETS: Bongo, The Tick

Ok. You there, in the back?

C. I used to read superhero comics when I was a kid, but then I discovered (girls/boys) and haven't really spared them a thought since. I keep hearing there's some good stuff, there.

There's some great superhero books you need to check out. Fantastic Four, Hawkeye, Daredevil, Young Avengers, Wonder Woman, Invincible, Batgirl, Dial H for Hero. None of them are FCBD offers this year, I'm afraid. Here's the ones that are:

Infinity – A preview of Marvel's big summer superhero event.

Superman Special Edition – Includes a preview of an upcoming Superman comic, and a reprint of a December 2006 story which reintroduced the character of General Zod into DC continuity. A continuity that has since been disposed of. Not once, but twice. But hey, who's counting? (Me. I am counting. Me.)

DC Nation Super Sampler – Stories introducing two new animated series, Beware the Batman and the (welcome! Groovy!) return of Teen Titans, Go!

Hulk and the Agents of SMASH/Avengers Assemble – Two stories from comics based on two Marvel animated series.

Absolution: The Beginning – Reprinting the first two issues of the Christos Gage/Daniel Gete "superheroes gone bad" series, which began in 2009.

Stan Lee's Chakra The Invincible – Set in Mumbai, this new series follows a young technological prodigy who develops a mech-suit capable of unlocking his mystical chakras. But not in the sexy way.

The Red Ten – A spandex-clad take on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians."

Valiant Masters - Reprints of stories from the 90s, the XXXXTREEEEME!!! era of Poochie-fied, hyperviolent comics storytelling. Your mileage may vary, but I find this stuff testosterrible.

BEST BET: I dunno. Teen Titans Go was a great series. The Red Ten, maybe? And Chakra, for at least taking the genre in a different direction?

Yes, you there, with the ear-trumpet.

D. I remember, back when I was a but a barefoot boy with cheek of tan, taking a shiny-new Indian-Head nickel over to Ol' Mr. Crumblefeather's Feed Store every Saturday morning, where I'd buy me a fizzy drink and some penny candy and Li'l Orphan Annie comic book.


Then, with the change I got back, I'd take myself over to the five and dime to buy my mother some ribbons and buttons and lotions, after which I'd head over to the motion picture show and –

Okay, gramps, we get it. You harbor fond, if frankly economically and numismatically questionable, memories of comics in the olden-timey days. So for you:

Buck Rogers – Reprints of old Buck Rogers comics from the pre-TV, pre-Twiki, pre-Erin-Gray-in-the-white-catsuit, era. You were warned.

Prince Valiant – Reprints of ye olde Arthuriane comicse.

BEST BETS: Either. Both.

E. I like science fiction. It never really occurred to me to try a comic, though.

Atomic Robo and Friends – This is your best bet on Free Comic Book Day. Ask for it if you don't see it. It's great. Fun and funny. Both at once.

2000 AD Sampler – Several comics from Britain's long-running science-fiction anthology comic, including a new Judge Dredd tale. But if that doesn't fill you with enough Dredd....

Judge Dredd Classics -- ... you can always pick up this sampler of old-school JD comics.

Valiant 2013 — Excerpts from Valiant's current line of science-fiction comics.

Aphrodite IX – In a post-apocalyptic world, there be dragons. If you need to know more than that before committing, this probably isn't for you.

Endangered Weapon B and the Tentacles of Doom – So is steampunk considered science fiction, nowadays? I can never keep up with you crazy kids and your rigid taxonomies. Anyway – dirigibles, a grizzly bear in a mech suit, the lost Library of Alexandia, squid-thingies-that-are-probably-aliens, more. As if more is needed.

The Steam Engines of Oz – Preview of an upcoming series set 100 years after Dorothy offs the Wicked Witch of the West. Also previews several titles in Arcana's new steampunk line of comics.

BEST BET: Atomic Robo and Friends. Seriously.

F. I Am A Disaffected Narrow-Chested Self-Styled Intellectual Given to Wearing Knit Hats Out-of-Season Who Disdains Superhero Comics As Puerile Fodder for Idiot Children And Who Finds Science Fiction And Other Genres Asinine Who Much Prefers To Read Mature, Richly Nuanced Literature About Narrow-Chested Self-Styled Intellectuals Given to Wearing Knit Hats Out-of-Season.

... You seem fun.

Who Are Also Maybe Starting a Band.

I see. Okay, gimme a minute. Because this isn't going to be easy. Historically, Free Comic Book Day has dutifully reflected the current status of the comics marketplace, which is to say: wholly dominated by superheroes, licensed tie-ins, and genre fare.

But this is a once-in-a-year opportunity to show the truly limitless breadth of comics storytelling, and FCBD offerings have never done a particularly good job of representing that. There are plenty of comics that fit your description, trust me. You'll just have buy them.

Let me get back to you on this one, okay? Yes, you there, with the clear-eyed gaze and friendly expression.

G. I'm just curious to see what's out there. I have no particular interest in superheroes, but other genres – Western, Thriller, Horror, Fantasy, whatever – are fair game. I like a good story.

Well, aren't you just exactly who comics shops hope to meet on Saturday.

Kellerman/L'Amour Sampler – Two excerpts from upcoming comics adaptations – an Alex Delaware thriller by Joe Kellerman, and a "Louis L'Amour" Western yarn that's actually a new story.

The Walking Dead – You've seen the show and wished they'd stop wringing their hands and maybe kill a freaking zombie already. Now read the book.

Mass Effect/Killjoys/RIPD – If you go by the cover, this looks like just another adaptation of a video game, which would mean it belongs up with licensed tie-ins. But it also includes two other stories, Killjoys and RIPD, both of which – but especially RIPD, about a police force that enforces supernatural law – show a bit more promise.

Damsels – A Fables-ish take which examines the life of fairy tale characters (in this case, The Little Mermaid) outside the tales we know.

FUBAR – Sampler-pack of "American History Z" stories about the American Experience ... and zombies, including an incident at Valley Forge.

Ramayan Reloaded Preview – A series of short stories providing background information on the various characters and settings featured in the series Ramayan 3392AD, which serves up a clever post-apocalyptic take on the events and characters of great Hindu epic, The Ramayana.

The Strangers – Here's how writer Chris Roberson describes this new series: "Swinging sixties supernatural super spies." Here's how I feel about that: "I'm in."

BEST BETS: Walking Dead, Damsels, Ramayan Reloaded, The Strangers.

Yes, you there. Clutching that beat-up old issue of Maxim with a strange fervor.

H. I like boobs. And guns. And chicks with boobs and guns.

Got just what you're looking for:

Worlds of Aspen 2013 – Here's what we know: The preview on the FCBD site is just a series of pin-ups. It may be all we need to know.

BEST BET: I can't help you here, buddy.

I. I wish to know more of these strange ... "comical books" of which you speak.

Bleeding Cool Magazine – An online gossip/news (but mostly gossip) comics site has published a guide to collecting comics.

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace – Overstreet's guide is a staple of FCBD, and offers a dispassionate series of tips for the beginning collector.

BEST BET: Overstreet.

... And that's everything. Good. Now go forth ...

F. Wait, What About ...

You again. Yeah, okay, listen, Mr. Mature, Nuanced Relationship Story Blah Blah Superheroes Are Dumb Blah, you're just gonna have to suck it up and buy something, I'm afraid. Maybe next year, the FCBD organizers will wise up and throw you a bone, but not this year.

Happily, most stores will stock lots and lots of great somethings in which adults very like you negotiate the world of jobs, relationships and mortality utterly without the aid of spandex, magic, or rayguns. Without knowing exactly what kind of stories you like, I can't reliably guide you to them – that's something to discuss with the staff on Saturday. But here's some titles to ask them about:

Love and Rockets. Strangers in Paradise. Blankets. Habibi. Box Office Poison. Jimmy Corrigan. Fun Home. Are You My Mother? You'll Never Know. Too Kool To Be Forgotten. Make Me a Woman. Ice Haven. Ghost World. The Voyeurs. Marbles. The Underwater Welder. Heads or Tails. Stitches.

Okay? We good? Now, you and all the rest of you. Take yourself, and your kids, to the nearest comics shop on Saturday. Talk with the staff. Ask them questions. Answer theirs.

Discover something.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.